New Faces and Experiences on Passenger Trains

Original Airdate: January 31 (2012)

This is Living Stories, featuring voices from the collections of the Baylor University Institute for Oral History. I'm Louis Mazé.

Traveling by train has become something of a novelty for most Americans, as the routes available from surviving lines are quite limiting. But during their heyday, passenger trains, with service offered in most cities, were the go-to mode of transportation for many Americans and offered the excitement of new faces and experiences.

Mary Sendón of Waco describes a notable train ride she took with her husband, Dr. Andrés Sendón:

"We were sitting there, and there was a family with a—two other children, but one of them was a little girl, cute little girl. Well, my husband liked kids, and he started talking to her. Well, she wouldn't leave him alone. She just wanted to sit with him and talk and talk and talk. So finally, two little boys came up and said—wanted to get in on the conversation. They had a book with the ABC's. Sendón said, ‘Can you say the ABC's?' They did, you know. They started off saying them. And then they told him, said, ‘Now, you say them.' Well, Sendón, to tease them, he would say, ‘A, B, D, F,'—you know, he'd skip around. And the little boy looked at him and said, ‘I thought you were a college professor.' (both laugh) Well, this little girl fell in love with my husband. Her name was Kathy. She was going to Wisconsin, and they lived in Weatherford, Texas. We got off at Detroit. They went on to Wisconsin. And when we came back we didn't see them anywhere around. I said, ‘I wonder if that family is on this train again.' Sure enough, I looked up, and there stood the father with this little girl. He said, ‘You know, I walked through every train [car] on this thing here trying to find you all. She wanted to know if y'all were here.' (interviewer laughs)

"So we got her name and address, and that started a correspondence. She would write cute little things, you know. Her mother would write some for her. A friendship started there between them and us and the little girl. And she asked my husband what his name was—and they were still with the ABC's—Sendón said, ‘Oh, call me XYZ.' Well, she'd write him letters—I still have them—‘Dear XYZ.' Well, do you know, to this day, those people write to me. That was the strangest friendship that we ever made. The little girl would come to see us once a year. She always had her—make her mother make cookies to bring him cookies. And now she's married, a nurse, has children, but they're still our friends. Isn't that strange how a train will do that for you? (interviewer laughs) That was our train friendship."

Marcile Sullins of Woodway recalls train travel during WWII with a trip she made to see her husband who was stationed in Colorado:

"I had never been away from home; I had never been out of the state of Texas. So I caught a train at Katy Depot with a six-weeks-old baby. (laughs) And during the war they put everything that they could find on the lines. I traveled in a chair car with windows that would not close, and at that time they still had coal-driven engines, steam engines, and the coal smoke came back into the car. And when we got to Colorado Springs, he had been waiting on us eight hours. We were dirty from smoke (both laugh) and tired."

Interest has renewed lately in passenger rail service, due in part to rising fuel costs and growing concerns about the environment. Perhaps one day in the future trains will flourish once more across the American landscape.

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